Election of Pope Francis Takes Argentine Media by Surprise

Pope Francis I Balcony - H 2013
Getty Images

Pope Francis I Balcony - H 2013

Latin American outlets stress Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio's austere, down-to-earth habits and social concerns.

BUENOS AIRES -- An absolute surprise. That was the overall feeling conveyed by the Argentine media when the Vatican announced Wednesday that Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio has become the first Latin American pope in the history of the Catholic Church.

Although Bergoglio had been a runner-up in the previous election -- in which he reportedly asked not to be chosen -- his name was not among the strongest candidates for this new conclave. With more than 50 percent of all Catholics residing in Latin America, the chances for a Latin American pope were high, yet expectations were focused on Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer.

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As Argentine networks tuned in at the time white smoke came out of the Vatican, only one, C5N, actually had a journalist on site at the Saint Peter Plaza. Although after the first frustrated elections, one newspaper had mentioned Bergoglio's chances were rising, the final announcement was received with shocked surprise and joy by all news anchors reporting live. Coverage soon moved to the Buenos Aires Cathedral, Bergoglio’s own turf, where Catholics gathered to cheer and sing on the building steps.

The characterization of Bergoglio in regional newspapers has gone in two opposite ways. The general consensus in traditional outlets depicted him as a moderate, social-driven and austere Jesuit of simple habits and pointed out he arrived at the Vatican conclave alone and on foot.

On the other hand, newspapers such as Pagina/12 (Argentina) and La Jornada (Mexico) remembered his collaboration with the last military dictatorship, as well as his harsh opposition to gay marriage.

Regarded as a conservative Peronist, Bergoglio's “very cold and distant” relationship with the Argentine government nevertheless was highlighted by most newspapers. The conflict  between the new pope and the government reportedly reached a peak when Congress passed the egalitarian marriage law in 2010.

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President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner issued a letter to new Pope Francis congratulating him and wishing him “a fruitful pastoral work, for the good of justice, equality and fraternity.” A government spokesman confirmed that Kirchner will attend the pope’s assumption at the Vatican.

In Chile, Monsignor Ricardo Ezzati expressed joy for the election and mentioned they were expecting a much longer conclave. “The spirit of the Lord has made itself present faster than we expected,” he stated. Chilean media stressed that Bergoglio made his first steps in his Jesuit formation in Santiago de Chile during in the 1960s.

In Venezuela, acting President Nicolas Maduro said the late Hugo Chavez probably "had something to do" with a South American pope being elected. "A new hand must have arrived in heaven, and Christ said, 'Well, it's time for South America,' " he said. That's what we believe."

Said Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto: “We welcome Pope Francis with respect and affection, and we wish to establish a close and cordial relationship."